Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters: Review

OSM_c01Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters – Available Soon

by Aaron Einhorn
It should be no secret that I am a fan of Scott Bachmann’s writing. Yes, he happens to be a friend of mine, but that doesn’t mean I automatically have to like everything he produces. I’ve got several good friends who are published authors whose books don’t appeal to me.

I’ve already reviewed his first novel, The Paragon of Animals here. Today, I’m turning my eye to his comics. Liza Lang, the protagonist of The Paragon of Animals finishes that book as a newly transformed superhero. But the events of that knowledge are some fifteen years in the past. Liza’s story continues, and she ends up getting married and having two children. But how does one balance being the world’s most powerful superhero with being a mother? That’s the story that Bachmann explores in Our Supermom.

Our Supermom has been running on-line at OurSupermom.com since Fall of 2011, with print copies of the individual issues available from Print-On Demand, thru DriveThru Comics and by finding Bachmann at a convention. Now, the first arc of Our Supermom is coming to a close, and the first four issues of the comic are being collected in Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters.

I was given a copy of the book to pre-read and review, and it was a pleasure to go back and refamiliarize myself with the story of Liza, Leon, Mark and Gail that I’ve been reading one page at a time for the past two years. But how does the collected story work as a trade paperback? Read on to find out.

OSM_01Our Supermom is the story of Liza and how she balances the responsibilities of being a (mostly retired) superhero with being a mother. Liza has to juggle all of the normal challenges of parenting with occasionally stopping a disaster – a daunting enough task. But that wouldn’t be enough for this story, and Bachmann gives us much more. In addition to these issues, Liza must also deal with a new vigilante who has set up shop in her town, watching her children develop superpowers of their own, and watching as her powers begin to fade away.

What we end up with is a comic that mixes humor and action, and creates a story that is enjoyable by older fans of superhero comics, while still being accessible to kids. I love Our Supermom as a superhero comic, but my wife enjoys it for the realistic portrayal of motherhood (well, realistic except for the whole superpowers thing), and both of my daughters can have fun reading it as well – with the characters of Markie and Gail there to be identifiable to them.

From other works, I knew I would enjoy Bachmann’s writing, but one of the things that was a variable for the book was going to be the artwork. Having a good penciler can make or break a comic series after all, and I’m pleased to say that the pencils of Scott D. M. Simmons are more than equal to the challenge. Simmons has a cartoony style that isn’t overexaggerated and off-putting. It manages to convey both the light-hearted tone of most of the book, but still has enough depth and realism that the more serious moments are discordant with the art.

OSM_02Does that mean that Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters is a perfect graphic novel? No. As enjoyable as the story is, it’s obvious – especially in the first “issue” – that Bachmann is still learning to balance the needs of a page-a-week comic against the need to have a smooth transition when the title is collected in to a trade paperback. There are several beats that remind the reader that these stories were originally broken in to much smaller chunks for audience consumption. These issues fade away as the book continues, both from the reader getting used to it and as Bachmann gained skill as a writer.

In addition to all four issues of Our Supermom, Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters also includes the bonus comic created originally for the Lexington Comic Con, and several pages of fan art featuring Liza and company.

Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters completes this chapter for Liza Lang, the Paragon. But considering that Bachmann has written and published one novel for Liza, with a second one on the way, we can hope that this isn’t the end of her story.

Our Supermom Vol. 1: Family Matters will be available soon through DriveThru Comics and at ScottComics.com.

The Paragon of Animals – A review

paragon-animals-scott-bachmann-paperback-cover-artby Aaron Einhorn
The Paragon of Animals is the debut novel by Scott Bachmann, an Ohio native author. On the surface, the story is quite simple; a “Freaky Friday” set-up where the Paragon (this world’s Superman pastiche) meets with his greatest fan, one Liza Lang, and the two end up switching bodies. Liza and the Paragon both must figure out how to get back into their own bodies, all while maintaining the fiction that each one is who they’re pretending to be.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Goofy even. There’s a reason that when this kind of story is made into a film, it’s usually a screwball comedy, and the differences between the two swapped individuals is as extreme as possible, all to play with audience expectations. And it’s no great stranger to superhero stories either. Body-swap stories show up in comics and cartoons all the time. In fact, the current Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon has done it more than once in its three seasons.

What Bachmann does that is unexpected is that he doesn’t play it for laughs. Oh, there are comedic moments, to be sure. Liza’s first experience trying to use the restroom as a man is both funny and deeply uncomfortable, and several of the characters (most notably the fire-wielding Cinaed) have a wonderful dry wit. But the story is not a comedy.

To begin with, Liza’s discomfort is very real, and she quickly realizes that lives are at stake. It might have been tempting for Bachmann to write several scenes where Liza’s inexperience with using her powers leads to disaster and destruction, but he avoids this, fortunately for the denizens of his world. Instead, Liza struggles to learn how to be the best possible hero, and the audience follows her along on this journey.

Just as significantly, Bachmann plays against expectations with the character of John West, the current Paragon. He’s the current Paragon because there have been two Paragons before him. The power of the Paragon, unique among “Outlier” abilities (Bachmann’s term for superpowers) is one that can be passed on from one person to another. But West, while he may fit the “Paragon” archetype, is no hero. He fights crime, stops disasters and saves lives, but he is also manipulative, deceitful, rude, petty, chauvinistic and completely untrustworthy. No member of his team can consider him a friend, and in fact many members of the team actively dislike the Paragon.

Liza quickly realizes that there is much more at stake than simply trying to return to her own body, and finds herself literally trying to save the world, and the audience get swept up for the ride.

The Paragon of Animals establishes a larger world with super powered individuals, which Bachmann has continued to explore. There are two comics that expand on this world, Raymond Hardcase, which tells the story of the Defense Force following the events of the book, and Our Supermom, which shows us where Liza ends up a decade or so after the novel. Both comics have print editions available, with trade paperbacks collecting the runs expected this fall. There is an RPG manual (authored by myself) in the works, and a sequel to The Paragon of Animals is due out in the fall of 2013. You can examine these other works at ScottComics.

Now, all this praise aside, that doesn’t mean that The Paragon of Animals is a perfect book. Bachmann’s writing can be clumsy in places, and transitions are often not as clear as they should be. His grammar and punctuation are not the cleanest, and the first edition of the novel (it is currently on its Second Printing, with a Third Edition slated to come out at the same time as the sequel, To Thine Own Self Be True) had numerous typos within the book.

Bachmann is also still clearly an inexperienced novelist. The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven, and some characters never rise beyond the level of stereotypes.

All of these criticisms aside, The Paragon of Animals is an incredibly fun ride, and Bachmann shows promise as a writer. The issues I mention above are ones that will be corrected with experience, and never keep one from enjoying reading the work. So, while it may be a flawed novel, it’s one that should excite the reader to see future works from this author.

The Paragon of Animals is available in both print ($7.49) and for Kindle ($2.99) at Amazon.com.

Disclosure: Scott Bachmann is a close friend, which probably biases my opinion. On the other hand, I have other friends who are writers whose work I have not enjoyed. Scott did not ask me to write a review, nor did he have any preconceived expectations of a positive one. I was not compensated for the review, although I did receive a copy of the book as a gift.